Florida lawmakers mulling how to spend $10 billion federal COVID relief

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 4:43 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCJB) - Since President Biden put pen to paper on the American Rescue Plan, Florida will receive billions of dollars in federal COVID-relief funds.

The burden falls on Florida lawmakers to the decide how to spend that money.

Lawmakers began this legislative session facing a $2.1 billion budget shortfall caused by the pandemic, but the state is about to receive $10.2 billion from the federal government, which at least in theory, will make balancing the budget easier.

“A lot of our ongoing budget challenges are non-recurring,” said Senate Budget Chair Kelli Stargel.

Stargel is mindful of the fact the federal dollars are a one-time payment.

“We’ve got a future minimum wage implementation. We Medicaid that’s going to be expanding. These are recurring expenses and that influx of money is non-recurring funds. So we’re trying to balance that out in the most appropriate way and how we can kind of pay for non-recurring things with non-recurring dollars,” said Stargel.

Florida Democrats hope the money will be used to back their $100 million plan to provide direct utility relief for Floridians.

“Roughly a million Floridians have been unable to pay their utility bills during COVID,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

While lawmakers and the Governor appear eager to utilize the federal cash injection, a former Governor turned US Senator is urging the state to reject it.

In a letter sent to all 50 state governors, Senator Rick Scott called the $1.9 trillion relief package ‘wasteful’ and urged them return excess funds.

Stargel isn’t buying the idea.

“You return the funds, it just gets redistributed to New York or California or to other states,” said Stargel.

The Governor has suggested lawmakers set the state budget at $96.6 billion, more than $4 billion higher than the current budget.

Even with the new federal funds lawmakers have remained skeptical of such a large increase.

In total, the American Rescue Plan will bring $17 billion to Florida.

In addition to the money going to the state, cities will receive $1.4 billion, counties $4.3 billion and another $1.3 billion for other local governments.

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